Kylie Arnot’s state diving title makes history for Interboro

PROSPECT PARK —The PIAA Class 2A diving championships were just another meet for Interboro’s Kylie Arnot. Bigger than some she’s competed in, with her club teams through the years, but not all.

The only thing that might have made it seem unusual is a reality Arnot has grown comfortable with.

“I was just a diver there with acrylics on,” she said last week at the high school.

Arnot won the Class 2A boys diving championship at Bucknell University. She identifies as a trans woman but competes against boys, in accordance with her sex assigned at birth, under the name Caleb. That’s how she sees it continuing, and her first concern is on improving in a sport she’s passionate about.

Arnot’s medal is the first for Interboro since Kim Kephart in 1992. It’s the first in boys competition for a Delco diver since 2004 (Josh Bonner, Ridley) and it was the first in the boys meet for a competitor from Delco since 2012.

That history, while “mind-blowing” to Arnot, doesn’t mean she surprised herself. She’s been diving since age 7, starting at Tinicum Swim Club, when she saw older kids on the board and was entranced. She approached the coach, gave it a try and won the novice division of Tinicum’s next meet that same week.

“She came up and was interested, and I was the kind of coach that was like, OK, you can practice for the day and see if you like it before your parents put money into it,” said her Tinicum coach, Mel Emplit. “She went up on the board and was pretty much a natural. She wasn’t afraid of anything. We threw her right into it, and she was awesome.”

Arnot’s love of the sport has led her to court challenges beyond high school and summer club. She trained for five years at West Chester Diving, but that club doesn’t have a 10-meter platform, her favorite discipline. Instead of augmenting West Chester training with regular trips to the platform at Rutgers University, she joined Princeton Tigers Aquatic Club, which allows her to practice on platform. She dives six nights a week, including weeknight sessions that get her home around midnight.

Emplit saw that desire early in working with Arnot. She eventually outstripped the instruction Emplit could provide at Tinicum, but she continued to dive there in the summer and help Emplit shepherd younger divers. That kind of secondary coaching from older kids is common at summer clubs, just not when the athlete is 12 like Arnot was.

“It’s a sport she genuinely loves,” Emplit said. “You could tell from Day 1, her heart was in it. Her grandmom asked me within the first week or two of her starting, where else can she go? Where else can we practice, what else can we do?”

All that preparation meant she approached states with confidence. Arnot had scored 414.75 points to win the District 1 Class 2A Championship by nearly 50 points. At states – limited this year to six dives instead of the 11 at districts and formerly at states – she scored 254.30, 20 clear of the field.

Arnot shook a bad warmup at Bucknell and dealt with the stress of waiting that comes with 23 competitors. But she bested the field by a comfortable margin as a freshman.

“It was scary because they all knew what they were expecting, and I just went in and I wasn’t expecting much,” she said. “I was expecting to have fun, and I had fun.”

Arnot’s performance is more impressive for the feat of compartmentalization it requires. Diving, while her passion, is in some ways a separate realm from the rest of her life thanks to the strict gender binary at play. That includes every dive being announced by a name she no longer recognizes. (She chose to start going by Kylie last year.)

“(Competing) feels normal to me because I’ve done it all my life. It just feels a little more awkward now,” she said. “On the board, I’m a different person from when I’m at school. It’s two totally different people, and the mindsets have to change, on the board and at school or at home. I’m just used to it.”

She’s embracing that path forward. USA Diving hasn’t implemented guidance for transgender athletes. The PIAA has likewise not adopted any policies, waiting until the state government acts on the matter. A proposal to ban transgender athletes from women’s sports was passed by both houses of the state legislature last summer but vetoed by then Gov. Tom Wolf. It leaves Pennsylvania one of less than a dozen states without a provision regarding transgender sports participation. The PIAA’s current policy is a curt 23 words, giving a school principal authority to mediate questions about an athlete’s gender.

Arnot is taking that for what it is. She plans to continue competing against boys for as long as that path is the one that allows her to compete. Either way, it’s not dampening her ambitions.

“If there was a change in the system, I would dive as a girl,” she said. “But right now, I see myself in the Olympics diving as a boy.”

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